Savina Fierro is a Portland-based designer who thrives on pixel perfect designs and organized rule breaking. A passion for people and projects, she found her calling in the cannabis industry. Savina specializes in helping companies bring their creative visions to life. Whether it's website design, packaging design, print advertisements, or establishing a brand identity, Savina has one goal – to make small cannabis businesses better. Launching her career on an ASUS laptop and a red peanut desk from IKEA, Savina built her business from the ground up. She has not looked back since.
What inspired you to enter the cannabis industry?
Cannabis was something that was always around in my family. My mom used the plant as a way to cope with chronic back pain, while my brother medicated as a way to calm his PTSD. Even though cannabis was openly used in the household, I was raised with the idea that cannabis makes you lazy and can lead to harder drugs. As a teen first using the plant, I was afraid of the stigma that my family would associate me with.
I decided to take that stigma as a challenge. I would actively work to destroy the "stoner" stereotype by enrolling in advanced classes, volunteering in my community, and holding a part-time job all while smoking cannabis. On graduation day, I boldly came out of the green closet and told my family that I had used cannabis during my entire high school career. That liberation is what inspired me to join the industry. To this day, I want to help others achieve that same sense of freedom, the idea that they can consume and still be successful.
Tell us more about launching your business
When I first started freelancing, I had enough in my account to cover one month of rent and a bag of rice and beans to stay fed. I didn't have more than a year (and a half) of experience and even more, troublesome, the small bit of design work I had wasn't great. As daunting as it seemed, I knew all I could do was roll up my sleeves and get to work.
I started out of a spare room on an ASUS laptop and a red peanut desk from IKEA. It was obvious that if I wanted to make a living doing what I love, I would need to focus my strengths and find advantages in places others hadn't. I found that those uncommon advantages shared a common strength: communication and advocacy for the plant. Before I could hold my own in my field, I relied on clear communication and a deep caring for people and projects. Turns out this passion shows and since starting I have been meeting and working with the beautiful, diverse entrepreneurs of the cannabis industry.
How would you describe your style as a designer?
As a designer I am always practicing new styles, I branch out to brutalism all the way to minimalism. If I had to summarize my style I would say clean with a punch of attitude. I don’t mean *snap* attitude, but an infusion of the spirit of your brand. Your audience should be able to feel what you stand for by looking at any outward facing material: websites, ads, and definitely brand identity.
Can you tell us more about the services you offer?
Totally! I work as a conduit for companies to express their creative visions on their marketing material whether it’s the design of your website, packaging design, print advertisements, or establishing a brand identity. I love the idea of working as a team with companies, that’s why I refer to clients as partners. As a freelancer most of my time is solo, so I appreciate the professional comradery that comes with new projects.
How has cannabis influenced your life?
I first consumed cannabis in high school as a way to relax. At that time, there was a lot going on around me. I found that when I smoked cannabis I returned to a baseline energy. Smoking is a holistic experience for me and is a much-needed reminder to breathe and be present. Now, I find that a CBD strain in the morning gets me to that starting point without clouding my creative process. Without cannabis, I couldn't truly be me.
What have been your biggest hurdles operating in the cannabis industry so far?
I'm sure there are a lot of people that can relate to this: breaking-out. Search up "cannabis industry jobs" and you will find plenty of blog posts telling you how to land that spot in the cannabis industry. Sometimes it can feel like the industry is already one big clique that won't let you sit with them, especially as a person of color!
How have you been able to overcome these challenges?
Network, network, and network some more.
Once you have all the appropriate certifications, get your face out there! Go to the meetups, the socials, the cannabis events because the people you will bump elbows with most likely work in the industry. Do your best to network digitally as well. Instagram and Twitter are becoming more of a valid resource to meet new people and employers are beginning to check these accounts before hiring. Once you meet a good bunch, squad up and support each other! The Green Rush is so big there is enough room for everyone to find their own niche.
Name the top 3 skills every cannabis entrepreneur needs
1. Professionalism – it's the cannabis industry, chances are you've gotten high at work before. While the novelty of working in the industry is fun at first, you also have to be able to set clear boundaries with yourself to maintain a sense of professionalism. Right now we have a chance to get the right foot out and end the stigma against cannabis users and entrepreneurs, don't mess it up for the rest of us.
2. Thick Skin – if there is something this market knows, it's a tale of resilience. I haven't chatted with one grower or business owner that hasn't overcome some sort of adversity to get to the position they are in. To survive in this field, you have to have thick skin and be able to dust yourself off when you get knocked down.
3. Advocacy – I don't think any business or brand can survive if they don't first have a heart for cannabis. People are wising up to cheap marketing tactics and can tell when you aren't being genuine. If you plan on working in the marketplace (even as an ancillary business) study up on basic knowledge of the plant.
What is the best advice you've received recently?
80% of people starting in the cannabis industry won't be here in 5 years. That information ignites something within you that makes you strive to not be apart of that statistic. For one reason or another, people lose their interest in the cannabis industry and move on to different things. To really stay the course you have to care deeply about the plant and the people in the industry.
Any tips for maintaining a work/life balance?
Set boundaries and FOLLOW THEM! That last part is always the hardest (I know, I know!), I usually set a loud alarm that I can't ignore for more than a few seconds. Once your focus is off your project, then step away from the office and take your break there. I'm still juggling the work/life balance, but it's something that you grow into.
What are your favorite resources/tools for your business and why?
My biggest resource I used starting out was Meetup. It's a really cool platform because it is specific to your area. So even if you are traveling and want to check where a cannabis event is, you could do that easily. I would recommend anyone looking to start in the industry to check Meetup for cannabis networking or social events in their area.
If you could offer an aspiring cannabis entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
Do not give up. Dream so big it sounds absolutely ridiculous and then shoot for that dream. I thought all these to be cliché until I actually saw the benefit of visualizing and actively working toward your dream. The universe wouldn't put anything in your mind that you could not manifest in one way or another.